Bringing Ladies' Night To Premium Cable

Starz’s 'The White Queen' and other upcoming entries play into ‘underserved’ female audience 8/19/2013 12:01:00 AM Eastern | @andreamorabito

Why This Matters
After a decade of male antiheroes dominating cable, some pay TV nets are looking for more female-skewing projects to spur growth.

While women make up a majority of the audience for most broadcast
television programs, premium cable has tended to be more of a boys’ club. Among 14 of the top current
scripted series on HBO and
Showtime, only three—True
, Nurse Jackie and Girls
had a higher rating among women
than men for their most recent
season premieres.

That may begin to change, however,
as cable networks look for the next creative
jump-start, and its appeal to women viewers. It’s
been 14 years since Tony Soprano first graced
the screen, and some wonder if the antihero is
passing the peak of its life cycle.

Starz CEO Chris Albrecht said female appeal
was one reason for picking up the network’s
newest drama, The White Queen, based
on Philippa Gregory’s book about England’s
War of the Roses. “The quality was there,
and it also moved me and us further down
a path that I have been thinking of, which is
that women are underserved in the premium
space,” Albrecht said at the recent Television
Critics Association summer press
tour. “While certainly we want
shows that have broad appeal, I
do think that we are now more
sensitive to saying there may be
an opportunity here for us, and
White Queen fit into that.”

With a story line of a woman
laying claim to the throne and a heavy romantic
theme, Starz tailored its media plan to target
female-skewing media with buys on Bravo, The
finale and in celebrity publications
such as People, and created the tagline “Men Go
to Battle. Women Wage War” to play up the female
power balance. “From a creative positioning
standpoint, we really wanted to highlight
that—it’s something that universally appeals to
women,” said Nancy McGee, Starz executive
VP of marketing. Notably, the series’ premiere
episode drew a 60% female audience, the most
female-skewing series ever for the network.

HBO, which aired the seminal female series
Sex and the City, says its more male-skewing
current fare is simply a result of what creators
have pitched , and that it is conscious of improving
the balance. “I look at not only the universe,
but our network, and go, ‘Why are we not telling
more stories about adult women?’ And one answer
is they haven’t come to the door. But we’re
very aware of it,” Michael Lombardo, president
of HBO programming, said at TCA. “And actually,
to the extent we reach out, yeah, we’re looking.
And we’ve let people and agents know that
that’s an area we’re really interested in.”

Full Pipeline

Along with White Queen, there are other
female-friendly projects in the premium cable
pipeline. In September, Showtime will debut
new drama Masters of Sex, about scientists Masters
and Johnson, which Showtime entertainment
president David Nevins expects “probably
has a slightly female tilt.” In 2014, Starz
will launch Outlander, about a married combat
nurse from 1945 who is mysteriously sent back
in time to 1743 and forced to marry a young
Scottish warrior. The net is also in development
on a ballet drama from Lawrence Bender about
a dancer with a troubled past. HBO has ordered
the comedy Togetherness, about two couples
living under the same roof. And Showtime
greenlit a pilot for The Affair, about the effect of
an affair on two marriages as told from both the
male and female perspectives.

The trend is also popping up on the slates of
premium cable’s competitors: Netflix’s latest
original series is the female ensemble dramedy
Orange Is the New Black. Even the basic cable
network FX seems to be taking note: While it
built its brand on testosterone-fueled dramas
such as The Shield and Sons of Anarchy, FX’s
two launches this year have been dual-lead dramas—
The Americans and The Bridge.